Tag: PCI-DSS (Page 1 of 10)

PCI-DSS V4.0 Deep Dive 2: Keyed Cryptographic Hashing

As we delve into the intricacies of the PCI-DSS v4.0 standard, it’s crucial to understand the significance of each requirement and its impact on safeguarding sensitive cardholder data. For this article, we’ll be focusing on Requirement 3.5.1.1, which revolves around the use of keyed cryptographic hashing for protecting Primary Account Numbers (PANs).


Requirement 3.5.1.1 states that “Hashes used to render PAN unreadable (per the first bullet of Requirement 3.5.1) are keyed cryptographic hashes of the entire PAN, with associated key-management processes and procedures in accordance with Requirements 3.6 and 3.7.”

Firstly, like everything else from interpreting history to interpreting your wife’s nuanced tone when she says, “It’s fine.”, everything needs a little contextualization. Luckily for us, PCI has placed some explanation for us to jumpstart the discussion.

A hashing function that incorporates a randomly generated secret key to provide brute force attack resistance and secret authentication integrity.
Appropriate keyed cryptographic hashing algorithms include but are not limited to: HMAC, CMAC, and GMAC, with an effective cryptographic strength of at least 128-bits (NIST SP 800-131Ar2).
Refer to the following for more information about HMAC, CMAC, and GMAC, respectively: NIST SP 800-107r1, NIST SP 800-38B, and NIST SP 800-38D).
See NIST SP 800-107 (Revision 1): Recommendation for Applications Using Approved Hash Algorithms §5.3.

Definition of Keyed Cryptographic Hash, PCI Glossary

So that’s a lot of MACs.

Let’s break it down. The requirements has 3 areas of importance, which we have helpfully underlined.

Keyed Cryptographic Hashes

The requirement mandates the use of keyed cryptographic hashes to render PANs unreadable. A keyed hash basically takes the entire PAN and combines it with a secret key to produce a unique, fixed-size output that is practically impossible to reverse-engineer without knowing the key. This way, even if an attacker gains access to the hashed PAN, they won’t be able to derive the original PAN without the secret key.

In 3.2.1, this was not stated and therefore the assumption that a simple hash was sufficient. Let’s listen to what this old obsolete standard says: “It is recommended, but not currently a requirement, that an additional, random input value be added to the cardholder data prior to hashing to reduce the feasibility of an attacker comparing the data against (and deriving the PAN from) tables of precomputed hash values.”

That aged like milk. Basically they are talking about salt. The goal of salting is to protect against dictionary attacks or attacks using a rainbow table. If no secret salt is used, or if the salt has not been sufficiently protected, the corresponding data, for example the PAN, can be read from the attacker’s previously calculated dictionaries or rainbow tables. So in short, salts are good for the world. Except for Salt Bae. He’s no good.

Salting creates slow hashing, which is the point. So that it takes a few billion years for brute force to be successful. How different is salting from keyed hashes? For one, salts are generally known. Sometimes they are even stored together with the hash in the database. So if let’s say, that’s compromised, Salt is known. I suppose, you can say “Live by the salt, die by the salt.” Ha!

Keyed Crypto Hashes mean there is a secret key. And before you go and jump off the building, there are already existing algorithms out there (The MAC brothers) that has previously been used — primarily, to my knowledge — for message integrity checks. In fact, the MAC here means Message Authentication Code to check integrity and authenticity. Unlike the salt, it ISN’T known, or at least not unprotected. So even if the database is compromised, they can’t get the key, because it’s protected (through encryption, later on to explain).

Now, why the change from normal hash, with recommended Salt, to hash with secret key?

The problem is with card numbers. Those dang card numbers, which is so different from let’s say passwords. Unlike passwords, where it could really be random, credit card numbers are NOT random. They are unique, but they are far from random. You see, a credit card consist of:

  1. The bank identification number (BIN) or issuer identification number (IIN)The first six digits is the issuer id. You can go https://www.bindb.com/bin-list
  2. The account number: The number between the BIN and the check digit (the last digit) is six to nine digits long and is used to identify the individual account number.
  3. The check digit: The last digit, added to validate the authenticity of the credit card number. This is by using the Luhn algorithm.

The thing about Luhn is that it is used to validate primary account numbers. I am not going into details, as other people have done so and will do a much better job in explaining this. But the short of it is that, if I have the BIN, and I have the Luhn and I have, let’s say 3 more numbers of the account number, then you get the picture. The Luhn digit is the result of the luhn algorithm applying to all the previous numbers (right first to left), which you already known, if it’s truncated! You would already know 9 digits (first six, last three, the last being the final luhn result). It’s likely still going to take a lot of effort, but the predictable way credit cards are structured actually provides less fields to be guessed. As scary as it may sound, hashes can be possibly reversed.

While salt adds complexity and make it slower, salts aren’t secret, remember, so eventually that can still be broken. A Key however is secret. Remember the data encryption key, key encryption keys? Well, hashing now requires the same treatment as encryption in that sense that these keys need to be encrypted.

The other important bit of this requirement is the requirement emphasizes that the entire PAN must be hashed. This is important because hashing only a portion of the PAN would still leave some sensitive information exposed. By hashing the entire PAN, we ensure that no part of it remains in plain text, adding an extra layer of protection.

Lastly, the requirement stresses the importance of proper key management processes and procedures, as outlined in Requirements 3.6 and 3.7. This means that the secret keys used for hashing must be securely generated, stored, and managed throughout their lifecycle. Weak key management can undermine the entire purpose of keyed hashing, so it’s crucial to get this right.

What does this mean?

It means, like a lot of new requirements in v4.0: more work.

It is, in its heart, a concept of defense-in-depth. Requirement 3.5.1.1 serves as a secondary line of defense against unauthorized access to stored PANs. Even if an attacker manages to exploit a vulnerability or misconfiguration in an entity’s primary access control system and accesses the database, the keyed cryptographic hashing of PANs acts as an additional barrier, preventing the attacker from obtaining the actual PANs, unless they manage to compromise the key.

By implementing a secondary, independent control system for managing cryptographic keys and decryption processes, entities can ensure that a failure in the primary access control system doesn’t automatically lead to a breach of PAN confidentiality. For instance, instead of storing the PANs in plain text, a website employs a keyed hashing algorithm, such as HMAC-SHA256, to render the PANs unreadable. Each PAN is combined with a unique, randomly generated secret key before being hashed, and the resulting hash values are stored in the website’s database.

Final note: It’s important to note that Requirement 3.5.1.1 applies to all instances of stored PANs, whether in primary storage (databases, flat files) or non-primary storage (backups, audit logs, exception logs). This means that entities must ensure that keyed cryptographic hashing is implemented consistently across all storage locations, leaving no room for gaps in protection.

However, the requirement does make an exception for temporary files containing cleartext PANs during the encryption and decryption process. This is a practical consideration, as it allows entities to temporarily work with unencrypted PANs while performing necessary operations, as long as the temporary files are properly secured and promptly removed after use.

If you have any questions or need assistance in navigating the complexities of PCI-DSS v4.0, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at avantedge@pkfmalaysia.com. Our team of experienced professionals is here to help you every step of the way, ensuring that your organization stays secure, compliant, and ahead of the curve in the ever-evolving landscape of data security.

Why QSAs Matter in your PCI-DSS

The questions we usually get asked, aside from why we prefer not to be a QSA (which, although it is fairly dated and need to be revised, have been answered), despite us doing PCI-DSS since 2012 in Malaysia, is why we hardly work with different QSAs in our PCI-DSS projects. Aren’t all QSAs the same? Aren’t all created equal?

Like everything in life, there are basis of variation. We are not here to say which is better, which is worse. It’s not in our culture to constantly provide a barrage of negative statements in regards to other companies and organizations, even with basis — because that’s not how we are wired.

That being said, we do have an internal list of companies (and QSAs) that we would perhaps have some less inclination to. This is due to either working firsthand with them, or mainly seeing some of the results of their work. Quite shocking some of the things we see. Additionally, we have also had clients who had suffered under their so called advisory and have asked us to step in for help.

So to the query on which QSA should you spend the next six months (or more) months with for your PCI Project? Let’s put a few options forward in a more quantifiable manner.

a) Experience

A question we get asked is why we generally don’t just work with local providers or assessors who are closer to home. It’s not because they are worse or better. It’s like comparing cars. They all have their pros and cons – we do not slag organizations off even if we would rather avoid some of them. But one way I would tell customers is, let’s look at experience first.

As of writing, we have 3065 PCI-DSS listed projects based on the Visa Provier List at https://www.visa.com/splisting/searchGrsp.do. The top 10 assessors on this list is as follows:

AssessorProjects
VikingCloud208
Foregenix142
ControlCase 113
SECTEC103
Compliance Control96
Coalfire Systems86
SISA 83
A-LIGN80
CIPHER 71
atsec 71
Total1053

The top 10 assessors make up almost 35% of the projects listed. Those are heavy hitters. Suffice to say a lot of projects remain unlisted – level 2 Service providers, SAQ projects, Merchant projects etc. So actual projects (included non listed) for each assessor is probably a lot higher. To put in context, there are the following numbers of projects for assessors:

ProjectsNumber of Assessors
154
235
325
422
518
613
713
87
910
103

There are 200 Assessors out there with 10 or less projects listed. In defence, some of these are actually the same company under another name, so it’s not like 100% accurate in terms of this overview. So out of 262 assessors in that list that does PCI, 77% of them have 10 or less projects, showing that it’s not that easy to get that number to a 100 or more. Again I will reiterate, quantity doesn’t automatically means it’s better. Some may argue, the more projects you have, the more quality is suffered. That is a good point. And I have experience with some of the overseas QSAs in that smaller project number group that I would gladly give a project and have a beer with. They are really good and extremely passionate about PCI-DSS and I’ve learnt truckloads from them. We are just saying this is one starting indicator you may want to jump from because most service providers start off with this off the bat when they are presenting their services: how many customers ‘trust’ them.

b) Location

This is slightly misleading in a sense that the query we ask is: do we need a QSA who is local? Local here would mean they have an office in the country they are serving the customer in. This argument, while it seems to initial hold some credence, is actually self defeating. And a bit strange, when most organisations now prefer to be known as regional or global, instead of touting themselves as just local players. If they use this as a plus point, then by going to their overseas customers, they are technically disputing the same argument point they are advocating. Most QSAs won’t use this track because they know that a QSA company needs to at the very least operate regionally, or if you want to be focused on a country – then, fine, take USA. The reason why the service provider list does not have a breakdown of all 195 countries (or if you are a Malaysian Minister, then that would be 500 countries) of Earth is that being a QSA is tough work. The breakdown is in regions and the only countries listed there are US and Canada because US makes up almost 35% of the listed projects there.

Think about the last time you dealt with a QSA. Did you have access to that QSA through messages or call? Did you call for a meeting and that QSA came as required? Did that QSA respond quicker? Was that QSA able to reply your queries, technical or otherwise related to your compliance in clear and consistent manner? Did they insist on you paying them more for advisory or delayed your project? Did they upsell more services to you that was unplanned and unknown? Think about the positives and negative experience you had.

Those are more pertinent queries than deciding someone to be ‘local’. That point is actually really moot. Because in almost all projects, the bulk of the work will be handled by a consultant. QSAs by definition should be global or regional anyway. In the economics of being a QSA (explored in another article), being a QSA operating in a single country would probably not be cost sustainable. Especially in a country where the currency is slightly more than the value of a turnip. So the assessor will still have to be flying to other places anyway. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter whether its local, regional or global when it comes to being an assessor, the question is how accessible and communicable they are.

In that sense, we strike a balance – we are local to Malaysia, or any other country that we operate in (we have presence in 150 countries as a global network), and we provide the independent, technical advisory needed to be consultants. We are not QSAs so we don’t need to be pulled all over the place in other PCI projects all over helter-skelter. We are all certified in various certifications and more product certs that I can throw a stone at. We are operational people all with more than a decade of experience so you won’t have a wide-eyed associate with a checklist coming to you. We also have non-IT services as we are also tax advisors, corporate financiers, risk managers, compliance directors – we aren’t just an IT company aiming to push IT services or cybersecurity solutions for you – our DNA is in advisory and consulting.

Enough of blowing our own horn then. Which leads me to item 3:

c) Reference

It’s important to not just look at a list of customers. I have a client who gets annoyed with seeing a presentation with a list of logos without any context of the work. Some may list down large companies or merchants under their so called ‘Customer’ but without any context. You know what? Fine. I can list down all telcos, up to twenty PLCs, more than half a dozen of oil and gas and more banks than I can swing a bat at just because I have given them ‘training’. Come on.

Look past that veneer and look at actual references in the industry. Is there a positive experience? Is there someone out there willing to endorse good will? Are there any bad experiences? Another area I got asked is, if the assessor has been involved in a breach before. This almost needs a new article to explore. Look, we all know PCI doesn’t guarantee non-breach. It’s not a panacea to world hunger. Its more important to note that what is the outcome of the investigation or forensics before we go witch hunting. It’s meaningless to state for instance, the top QSAs would never experience any breaches in their existence. For sure, some of them would need to deal with this one way or another and to see if indeed there was an oversight. If there’s none, then the breach could be down to myriad of reasons outside of PCI-DSS control. Remember – assessors are not operational. They enter an audit in good faith. Witchunting a QSA just because of a breach involvement without context or having the final conclusion is a narrow minded, irresponsible approach to assessing capability (or culpability). If the QSA is truly to blame, wouldn’t they be put in remediation by the Council? There you go.

One thing you will never catch us doing is giving an opinion about certain things that we don’t have the full context on. It’s simply not something we are comfortable at. If we see some issue with a report from other QSAs, even if it looks strange, the reply is always: what is the context of this, and there must be a reason why it was interpreted as such. So that gives us a more balanced view and not just mouth off without understanding. As the proverbs say: “The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words. “

d) Cost and Resources

Most PCI projects have the conflicting pull of cost and resources. A QSA with a lot of resources and consultants will be very useful. The last thing you want to see is a QSA not responding and after 3 months rushes you for evidences. Cost still plays a huge role in PCI-DSS and it’s not as if things are getting cheaper. With version 4.0, there is more work for QSAs to do and they likely will pass down some of these costs to the customers. This still remains a very subjective item in this filtering exercise — a QSA charging your liver and kidney for PCI isn’t ideal, but if a QSA comes in with a price that resembles a popsicle in a flea market, I would likely stay away as well. We all know how much effort PCI is. We don’t want a situation where halfway through, the bulk of invisible costs comes pouring in like the army of Mordor, or else things will not be done. If you want to build your house, have most of the materials cost sorted out. If there is a VO, don’t let it cross a threshold of percentage of your initial cost. Having a QSA who understands this and is willing to negotiate is important. Even if the cost is not lowered (because to be fair, QSA work is not trivial), then negotiate for future services, or better payment terms – anything else to meet in the middle.

e) Stamp of Trust

Are there any stamps of trust for QSAs?

No, there isn’t. At least not officially. However, I would like to highlight there is this thing called Global Executive Assessor Roundtable (GEAR) found here: https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/about_us/press_releases/pci-security-standards-council-announces-2022-2024-global-executive-assessor-roundtable/

There are 28 QSAs in the GEAR currently, with the purpose below:

The Roundtable is an Executive Committee level advisory board comprised of senior executives from PCI SSC assessor companies. The 2022-2024 GEAR consists of 28 organizations, with the Roundtable term running 1 September 2022 – 31 August 2024.

“The Council depends on the input of a wide range of stakeholders to provide PCI SSC with valuable insights,” said PCI SSC Executive Director Lance J. Johnson.” With the release of version 4.0 of our PCI Data Security Standard this year, it is even more important to have active representation from every corner of the globe from an assessor perspective. Assessors are critical in assisting the Council with our effort to improve and evolve payment data security.”

PCI COUNCIL

The QSA we often work with, Controlcase is one of them, and have been reappointed, pointing out that in terms of reference, the Council considers their input as ‘valuable insights’. This is one of the list we look at, especially when requested about QSAs. Are they involved in GEAR?

IN SUMMARY

Like choosing a car, there is really no guarantees actually that your experience will be immaculate when it comes to PCI-DSS considerations. The above are just possible filters you can decide on when it comes to choosing your next QSA partner to embark your journey on. Or you can roll a dice or consult with the gods. Disclaimer of course is that we have not worked with ALL QSAs yet, so this still remains a rudimentary filter when you are thinking of a QSA. Find a QSA that can actually do the hard yards and have proven themselves with Project references and quality, Global Reach and experience, Positive Customer feedback and respect from the industry and finally, seen as an invaluable assistant to the almighty PCI Council themselves. In our personal opinion, it’s a start to look at these metrics and springboard from there. Because anyone can give a nice presentation or dress in a suit or talk negatively about other companies — but what are their numbers, references and contribution to the PCI council?

Drop us an email at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com to learn more about PCI and other compliances like ISMS or ITSM or SOC!

Major Changes of PCI v4

So now as we approach the final throes of PCI-DSS v3.2.1, the remaining 3 weeks is all that is left of this venerable standard before we say farewell once and for all.

PCI-DSS V4.0 is a relative youngster and we are already doing hours of updates with our customers on the things they need to prepare for. Don’t underestimate v4.0! While its not a time to panic, it’s also not a time to just lie back and think that v4.0 is not significant. It is.

Below is a table that provides an insight of the major changes we are facing in v4.0.

Bearing in mind that most of the requirements now start off with keeping policies updated and document roles and responsibilities, the major changes are worth a little bit of focus. In the next series of articles, we will go through each one as thoroughly as we can and try to understand the context in which it exists on.

Let’s start off the one on the top bin. Requirement 3.4.2.

Req. 3.4.2: When using remote-access technologies, technical controls prevent copy and/or relocation of PAN for all personnel, except for those with documented, explicit authorization and a legitimate, defined business need

PCI v4.0

Ok, we have underlined and emphasized a few key points in this statement. Because we feel that is important. Let’s start with what 3.4.2 applies to.

It applies to: Remote Access

It requires: Technical Controls

It must: PREVENT THE COPYING/RELOCATION

Of the subject matter: Full Primary Account Number

In v3.2.1 this was found in section 12.3.10 with slightly different wordings.

Req 12.3.10 For personnel accessing cardholder data via remote-access technologies, prohibit the copying, moving, and storage of cardholder data onto local hard drives and removable electronic media, unless explicitly authorized for a defined business need. Where there is an authorized business need, the usage policies must require the data be protected in accordance with all applicable PCI DSS Requirements.

PCI v3.2.1

I think 4.0, aside from the relocation of the requirement to the more relevant requirement 3 (as opposed to requirement 12, which we call the homeless requirement for any controls that don’t seem to fall into any other earlier requirements), reads better. Firstly, putting it in requirement 3 puts the onus on the reader to consider this as part of protection of storage of account data which is the point of Requirement 3. Furthermore, digging into the sub-requirement, 3.4 section header states: Access to displays of full PAN and ability to copy PAN is restricted.

This is the context of it, where we find the child of this 3.4 section called 3.4.2 and we need to understand it first, before we go out and start shopping for the first DLP system on the market and yell out “WE ARE COMPLIANT!”

3.4 talks about displays of FULL PAN. So we aren’t talking about truncated, or encrypted PAN here. So in theory, if you copy out a truncated PAN or encrypted PAN, you shouldn’t trigger 3.4.2. Its specific to full PAN. While we are at it, we aren’t even talking about cardholder data. A PAN is part of cardholder data, while not all cardholder data is PAN. Like the Hulk is part of the Avengers but not all Avengers are the Hulk. So if you want to copy the cardholder name or expiration date for whatever reasons like data analysis, behavioural prediction, stalking etc…this isn’t the requirement you are looking for.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves what is Account Data, Card Holder Data and Sensitive Authentication Data (SAD).

The previous v3.2.1 doesn’t actually state ‘technical controls’, which goes to say that if it’s a documentary controls, or a policy control, or something in the Acceptable Use Policy, it can also pass off as compliant. V4.0 removes that ambiguity. Of course, the policy should be there, but technical controls are specific. It has to be technical. It can’t be, oh wait, I have a nice paragraph in section 145.54(d)(i)(iii)(ab)(2.4601) in my information security acceptance document that stated this!

So these technical control(s) must PREVENT copying and relocation. Firstly just to be clear, copy is Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V somewhere else. Relocation is Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V somewhere else. Both has its problem. In copying, we will end up PAN having multiple locations of existence. In relocation, the PAN is moved, and now systems accessing the previous location will throw up an error – causing system integrity and performance issues. Suffice to say, v4.0 demands the prevention of both happening to PAN. Unless you have a need that is:

a) DOCUMENTED

b) EXPLICITLY AUTHORIZED (not Implied)

c) LEGITIMATE

d) DEFINED

When a business need is both “documented” and “defined,” it means that the requirement has been both precisely articulated (defined) and recorded in an official capacity (documented). So a list of people with access is needed for the who, why they legitimately need to access/copy/relocate PAN in terms of their business, explicitly authorized by proper authority (not themselves, obviously).

Finally, let’s talk about technical controls. Now, remember, this applies to REMOTE ACCESS. I’ve heard of clients who says, hey no worries, we have logging and monitoring in place for internal users. Or we have web application firewall in place. Or we have cloudflare in place. Or we have a thermonuclear rocket in place to release in case we get attacked. This control already implies ‘remote access’ into the environment. The users have passed the perimeter. It implies they are already trusted personnel, or contractors or service providers with properly authorized REMOTE ACCESS. Also, note that the authorization here is NOT for remote access, it is for the explicit action of copy/relocating PAN. In this case, most people would probably not have a business reason of copying/relocating PAN to their own systems unless for very specific business flow requirements. This means, only very few people in your organization should have this applied to them, under very specific circumstances. An actual real life example would be for an insurance client we have, they had to copy all transaction information, including card details in an encrypted format and put it into a removable media (like a CD-ROM) and then send it over to the Ombudsman for Financial Services as part of a regulatory requirement. That’s pretty specific.

So what passess off as a ‘technical control’? A Technical control may be as simple as to completely prevent copy/paste or cut/paste ability when accessing via remote access. This can be done in RDP or disable clipboard via SSLVPN. While I am not the most expert product specialist in remote access technologies, I can venture to say its fairly common to have these controls inbuilt into the remote access product. So, there may not be a need for DLP in that sense, as the goal here is to prevent the copying and relocation of PAN.

Now that being said, an umbrella disallow of copy and paste may not go well with some suits or C-levels who want to copy stuff to their drive to work while they are in the Bahamas. Of course. You could provide certain granular controls, depending on your VPN product or which part of the network they access. If a granular control cannot be agreed on, then a possible way is to enforce proper control via DLP (Data Loss Prevention) in endpoint protection. Or control access to CDE/PAN via a hardened jump server that has local policy locked down. So the general VPN into company resources may be more lax, but the moment access to PAN is required, 3.4.2 technical controls come in play.

At the end, how you justify your technical controls could be through a myriad of ways. The importance is of course, cost and efficiency. It has to make cost sense and it must not require your users to jump through hoops like a circus monkey.

So there you have it, a break down of 3.4.2. We are hopping into the next one in the next article so stay tuned. If you have any queries on PCI-DSS v4.0 or other related cybersecurity needs, be it SOC1 or 2, ISO27001, ISO20000, NIST or whether Apollo 11 really landed on the moon in 1969, drop us a note at avantedge@pkfmalaysia.com and we will get back to you!

An Ode to the Invalid Certificate

Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land of PeaCeEye, merchants, credit card transactions, online payments, payment gateways, POS terminals all lived in harmony. In this land, all citizens carry a trust symbol, held together by validation documents, called the Citizen Badge. However, PeaCeEye is now facing an existential threat. A threat shrouded in the cloak of validation, a false symbol of security and trust – called the Certificate. But, dear reader, beware! For this tale of caution and deception, and the Certificate, much like the elusive unicorn, while tangible, carries a false value – nothing more than a fabrication. A figment of imagination, conjured up by the minds of its idle creators, the Qessays.

You see, in the kingdom of PeaCeEye, there exists a council – a council of wise men and women who determine the rules and regulations that govern this realm. This council, known as the Secret Sorceror Council (SSC), has decreed that only three sacred documents hold the key to validation for the Citizen Badge – the Attestation of Compliance (AoC), the Report on Compliance (RoC), and the Self-Assessment Questionnaires (SAQs). Yet, despite the council’s resolute stance on this matter, a mysterious fourth document continues to emerge from the shadows – the Certificate.

Ah, the Certificate, a work of art crafted by the Qessays. You see, these Qessays were charged by the council to uphold what is truthful and right, and to ensure that all Citizens of PeaCeEye are identifiable by their Citizen Badges – The AoC, Roc and/or the SAQs. However, over the years, some of these noble Qessays have turned to the darkside and the sinister art of producing corrupted documentation, called the 4th deception, or the Certificate as it is now known. These dark Qessays have mastered the art of illusion, conjuring certificates out of thin air to dazzle their customers. They’ve become modern-day alchemists, turning mere paper and ink into a symbol of validation, which, in reality, is as weightless as a feather and as useful as a chocolate teapot. Or a fork and spoon when eating Chapati. It’s a thing of beauty, destined to hang on the walls of businesses, gracing them with its shimmering falsehoods.

But why do these Qessays continue to spin their webs of deception, offering their customers a document that has no merit in the eyes of the SSC? Something that even invalid citizens to PeaCeEye can procure? To unravel this mystery, we must dive into the murky depths of human nature. For, you see, people are drawn to shiny, pretty things, much like moths to a flame. A certificate, with its elegant calligraphy and embossed seal, is a testament to the allure of appearance over substance. It is a tangible representation of validation, regardless of its actual worth.

Moreover, the Certificate serves as a placebo, a sugar pill of sorts, which instills in businesses a false sense of security. It is a talisman that they cling to, convincing themselves that they are protected from the malicious forces of the World beyond PeaCeEye – the World called Cyberattacks. And, in the process, they become blind to the fact that the true power of validation lies in the sacred trio of documents – the AoC, RoC, and SAQs.

Now, one might argue that those who peddle these invalid certificates are merely fulfilling a demand. After all, the customer is always right, and if they desire a shiny piece of paper to adorn their walls, who are we to deny them? But, as the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And these Qessays, as the gatekeepers of the citizenship of PeaCeEye, must hold themselves to a higher standard.

By offering these overvalued and useless certificates-that even the SSC had themselves admonished and had announced to the citizens to not place any value to them- these certificates not only betray the trust of customers but also undermine the very foundation of Citizen Badge. They turn the realm of PeaCeEye into a farce, a stage where pretenders masquerade as protectors, and businesses are lulled into a false sense of security. There are even Qessays who are not even involved in the process of validating an SAQ being answered; luring their customers to portals with questionnaires answered by the citizen themselves and then conjuring these certificates that look as if it has been validated by the Qessays, but instead are just self aggrandizing papers that has been only self validated by the person answering their own questions! In other words, the person becomes their own judge and jury and are able to produce a Certificate that looks as if they have been properly validated by a third-party Qessays. Amazing art! An ostentatious object of grandeur and magnificence, yet with all the actual value of a discarded banana peel withering in the Sahara sun.

But, dear reader, do not despair, for there is hope. You see, the truth has a funny way of revealing itself, much like the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. And, as the truth about the invalidity of these Certificates spreads, businesses will begin to see through the veil of deception, and the demand for these counterfeit documents will wane. Qessays who persist in peddling these worthless certificates will find themselves exposed, their credibility crumbling like a house of cards.

In the meantime, we must not sit idly by, complacent in the face of falsehoods. Instead, we must raise our voices and spread the word, educating businesses on the true path to Citizen validation. We must sing the praises of the AoC, RoC, and SAQs, enlightening those who have been led astray by the allure of the invalid certificate. For it is only through knowledge that we can pierce the veil of deception and lay the mythical beast of the Certificate to rest.

So, let us embark on this crusade together, wielding the sword of truth and the shield of knowledge. As we march forward on this noble journey, let us remember the wise words of the SSC: “Trust, but verify.” Let us tear down the great wall of this Certificate, brick by brick, and replace it with a fortress built on the solid foundation of the council’s sacred trio of documents. And as we watch the last remnants of the Certificate crumble to dust, we will know that we have triumphed over the forces of deception.

We bid farewell to this Certificate, and to welcome a new era of transparency, security, and trust. An era where the mythical beast of the Certificate is relegated to the annals of history, and where the true power of validation is embraced, in all its glorious, council-approved forms. May the sacred trio of documents – the AoC, RoC, and SAQs – guide us on our path to a brighter, more secure future, and may the Certificate forever remain a cautionary tale of the perils of deception and the triumph of truth.*

** The above is written obviously in satire and tongue-in-cheek with absolute no journalistic value nor based on any real world reimagination and solely based on our absolute frustration at the continuous dependence and insistence from acquirers or banks to have our customers produce them ‘certificates’. In addition, some clients even go through self-service portals provided by QSAs and answer SAQ questions on their own, at the end of this process of self answering, a certificate is produced. Granted, the certificates do come with disclaimers in small prints stating that the certificate is actually based on self assessment and even admits that it isn’t recognised by the council.

But in reality, who actually reads the fine print?

In the end, anyone having gone through these ‘compliance’ portals, answering affirmative to everything would be able to procure these certificates and remarkably, some acquirers even accept them as proof of third party audit (which they are clearly NOT). Again, we are not stating that QSAs providing this service is doing anything wrong. There is nothing essentially wrong with certificates on its own, or QSAs providing these certificates as a simple means to show a company has undergone PCI-DSS compliance. But where it becomes a gray area is when there is too much dependence placed on these certificates to the point where even the AoC is rejected and acquirers insist on every company showing them these certificates. In this case, QSAs who are willing to provide so called certificates to companies without having undergone any assessment and only answering questions from the SAQ based on their own knowledge or whim – unless the QSA is willing to go through each question of each customer and validate these through evidence submission and review (the process called audit); then these creation of self signed certificates should be stopped. It’s akin to a banking website issuing a self-signed SSL cert on their own website and tell everyone to trust it. Does this happen in the world of e-commerce? No, it’s absurd. Then why is it different in the world of compliance? Why is this practice still allowed to prosper? How do we stop this practice?

We have been advocating removing certificates for years now from the PCI-DSS landscape and to have a more consistent and acceptable way to show PCI validation. Unfortunately, unlike the satirical tale above, this still eludes us. Drop us an email at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com if you have any ideas and comments to this!

PCI-DSS v4.0 vs v3.2.1 Deepdive Part 1

OK, now that we are well into 2023, the main question here is why isn’t the current assessments this year going into v4.0? Most of our customers are still doing their v3.2.1 for 2023, before doing 4.0 the next cycle. The answer is: Well, you can go for v4.0 if you want to. There’s really not much difference for now. The difference is probably more on the auditor side, as reporting requirements are different in V4.0. But from the client end, some of the scary changes like authenticated scans for internal vulnerability scanning, or updating of password complexity to 12 characters etc – these actually don’t come in force until March 2025. So there’s actually a grace period for v3.2.1 to v4.0 and another grace period for PCI v4.0 controls to be implemented, up to March 2025. Basically, anything past March 2025, the controls in v4.0 becomes Standard. No more compromise. Its like the biblical ten Commandments, except you have around 300+ commandments here. That’s a lot of chiseling on the rock by Moses.

Before we deepdive into v4.0, let’s set out the landscape a bit again, like unfurling a carpet or a mat before we feast into our metaphorical compliance picnic.

  1. Scope and Applicability

One of the key changes in PCI DSS v4.0 is the clarification of the scope of the standard. The new version provides more explicit guidance on how to apply the standard to different types of organizations, and it emphasizes the need for organizations to understand the scope of their cardholder data environment (CDE). This comes as a fairly significant change, as the initial pages of V4.0 is strewn with explanations of scoping and methodologies on how to define scope. It reads almost like they are trying to make up for lost time, and trying to cover all their bases, whereas in the previous version, just a cursory glance was done. PCI DSS v4.0 also provides guidance on how to identify and manage different types of risks. Risk has always been a difficult item to quantify in PCI. Because at the end, PCI is a result of a risk assessment anyway, done by the card schemes. It’s specifically to mitigate the risks they identified that the PCI program was born. So what’s the point of running a risk assessment in PCI-DSS if its already a standard? Well, PCI DSS v4.0 states that organizations should have a risk management program in place to identify and prioritize risks, and to take appropriate measures to mitigate those risks. Its a way of saying that while controls are required, how you address the controls are dependent on your risk assessment. Additionally, you can even opt to go above and beyond the PCI standard to address a particularly high risk area (although to find a company doing this is like finding the Lost Ark). Above the brownie points you would get from the QSA by showing you are a company keyed into your risk assessment practices; a risk assessment will likely help you identify other areas of concerns as well. The standard also requires organizations to have a process in place for identifying changes to their CDE, and for reviewing and updating their risk management program as needed. So to the point on whether the risk assessment is useful – yes. Whether it is critical to passing your PCI-DSS – well, I would say that depends a lot on your QSA. We’ve seen QSAs pass a bunch of colored coded excel sheets off as a PCI risk assessment easily.

2. New Control Objectives

PCI DSS v4.0 introduces several new control objectives to address emerging security risks. One of the key new objectives is to address the risks associated with cloud computing. The new version of the standard includes new requirements for securing cloud environments, including the need to assess the security of cloud service providers and to implement additional controls to secure cloud-based data. In v4.0, the word ‘Cloud’ appears 42 times in the entire standard. In v3.2.1, the word ‘Cloud’ appears as often as ‘NasiLemak’. Which is zero.

3. Password Requirements
PCI DSS v4.0 introduces new requirements for password management. We are in 2023 and we are still trying to remember all our passwords. PCI is now making our lives easier by introducing longer passwords! Great, now everyone just add incremental numbers behind your password from seven to twelve. The standard requires the use of multi-factor authentication for all non-console administrative access, this has already been evident in previous version. This just basically means that organizations must implement additional security measures, such as biometric authentication or smart card authentication, in addition to a password, to access sensitive systems and data

4. Encryption

The new standard maintains that organizations use more robust encryption algorithms and key lengths as per 3.2.1. Key management more or less remain as it is, but the biggest issue in v4.0 is the doing away with full disk or transparent encryption. We will do a deep dive in this later.

5. Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Management

PCI DSS v4.0 includes new requirements for penetration testing and vulnerability management. Among others is the requirement for Internal vulnerability scans to be authenticated whereas previously, this was a bit more gray area (actually not required). This could have potential impact especially for entities chasing a quarterly deadline, if you have a lot of systems in your scanning scope. So this makes the scoping a lot more critical. Because you can be sure the effort for internal scans are going to be going way up.

6. Remote Access

PCI DSS v4.0 includes new requirements for securing remote access to cardholder data environments. PCI requires organizations to implement multi-factor authentication for all remote access, and to use secure protocols, such as SSH or VPN, to access sensitive systems and data. While this remains, the other issue with 4.0 is the need to implement controls to prevent copy/relocation of PAN for all personnel unless there is a business need. We have a bad feeling about this. This could generally mean getting a DLP in place or a NAC in place to limit what can or cannot be done by users logging in remotely. There are solutions for these, but this needs to be planned and invested. The key word here is to ‘prevent’ not just ‘detect’, so this basically mean a proactive control in place to block these actions.

So in the next couple of articles, we will dive right into the changes for v4.0 in detail, including those requirements where it is stated “This requirement is a best practice until 31 March 2025, after which it will be required and must be fully considered during a PCI DSS assessment.”

We will also look into the SAQs and what has changed in the SAQs for those preparing to do self assessment in accordance to v4.0.

In the meantime, for any PCI related queries or any standards like CSA, ISO27001 etc, drop us a note at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com and we will get back to you!

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